Producer and director Paul Hendy loves a good panto – which is good because he’s got eight on the go, including Jack and the Beanstalk at the Lyceum in Sheffield!
Paul co-owns Evolution Pantomimes with his wife Emily. She was brought up in the world of pantomime as her dad, Kevin, is also a panto producer who has a rival company.
When they bought their firm Kevin was supposed to be retiring but he is still going strong.
So how do you produce eight show at once? Paul said: “We do it with military precision. I direct Canterbury and Sheffield at the same time. It’s pretty hectic for me. Emily oversees the others.
“I would try to get to see the rehearsals for at least two or three of the others.
“Once they open, we’re on the road and we take the kids with us. We try to visit our shows at least once a week.”
The youngsters, Freddie, aged seven, three-year-old Poppy, and Jago, aged one, have seen more pantos already than lots of people in their lifetimes.
The children even get a credit in the programmes.
For Jack and the Beanstalk Poppy is head of divas, Freddie is comedy consultant and Jago is executive dialogue coach!
Paul said: “The shows are on twice a day and three times on Saturdays. It’s quite nice to see everybody and then go off.
“For Emily and I to run the business with a young family, rather than going off on our own we see a lot more of our kids. We can work from home.”
He added: “It’s something we’re proud of and we’re very hands on. We like it and we care.
“We know all our companies and our dancers by their first names. There’s a danger if you lose that personal touch and we want to keep that.”
Paul is a familiar face from a TV career that goes back to presenting The Disney Club in 1990. His other television credits include being host on quiz show The Wheel of Fortune and he also co-presented Don’t Try This at Home with Davina McCall and Kate Thornton.
He said: “I was a professional for years. I was an entertainer and did lots of TV presenting. It was work I thoroughly enjoyed and what I wanted to do.
“As I achieved my dream I started doing other stuff. I wrote a novel, Diary of a C-List Celebrity, which did quite well, and it was a bit of a turning point.
I got it all out of my system and it all poured out.”
Then his life changed in another way. “That coincided with meeting Emily and starting a family. I invested my money into buying the company and I pretty much stopped performing.
“I still do the odd bit but I get more excited about finding someone like Damian.”
Putting Damian Williams into the Dame role in the Lyceum pamntomimes is one of Paul’s big successes as a panto producer.
Sheffield audiences love him so much that he is almost the biggest name on the cast list.
Paul said: “I’ll sit at the back of the theatre. I write the pantos as comedy is very much my thing. I love hearing a thousand people laugh.
“When you’ve got someone like Damian delivering it that that excites me more than performing.
“There isn’t much on TV where I think, ‘ I wish I was doing that’.”
Looking back, he is amazed at his own resilience.
“It’s such a tough business. When we’re auditioning people it breaks your heart to say no.
“I must have had a blinkered belief in my own ability. I know it’s not brilliant, so I must have been so driven.
“If people said nothing, a lot of people would take that as an indication to do something else!
“I kept going until someone said yes. Then all of a sudden you’re doing quite well.”
But pantomime is where his heart lies now. He said: “Eight pantos is a good number. We really like to carry on with our reputation.
“We’ve got a reputation within the industry that you know their pantos are the best. That’s what I want people to say about us.”
He sums up that success: “It’s quality, really, quality pantos for the whole family.
“I’m a big Morecambe and Wise fan. I remember sitting down with my mum, dad, nan and granddad for the Christmas specials and I remember us all laughing. It’s such a vivid memory.
“We’ve got that now in our pantos. You can see it when you look across a row of different people in the theatre. It’s what I want to do and what I love more than anything.”
Jack and the Beanstalk, starring Ian ‘H’ Watkins from Steps as Jack, is at the Lyceum until January 5.
Box office: at the Crucible Theatre, online at www.sheffieldtheatres.co.uk or by phone on 0114 249 6000.